A lot of good songs tell a story. Some of them have a very emotional quality. A good singer will try to milk an emotional song for all it’s worth. You can hear the extra emotion from their singing if the song is done right.
I like to sing. It’s one on the talents that sometimes gets me into a good jam despite my off and on picking skills. People like to pick but they generally like songs even better. If you can pick good ones and maybe sing good harmony on some others you will probably be very welcome at most jams.
When I sing, I like to feel the story and put everything I can into the rendition. It feels better when you sing from the heart and you sing better too. Unfortunately, that attitude comes with a price:
In dreams of yesterday I wandered Back to my little cabin door.
I strolled beside an old rock garden And saw familiar scenes once more.
I heard the organ softly playing Its music came so sweet and low.
And I heard my mother sweetly singing As oft I did so long ago.
The legendary Albert Brumley wrote this great song and it was first recorded in the early fifties by Wade Mainer. Many other bluegrass musicians have covered it since: Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman and the Seldom Scene just to name a few.
Last weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day. I was at the Parkfield Bluegrass festival enjoying internet detox at one of my favorite festivals in California. The acts on stage are really good and the after hours jamming is too.
Weeks before in preparation I figured I’d dust off some good tunes about Mother and call them at our campside jams. I thought immediately of Dreaming of a Little Cabin. I have never been able to sing it at a jam even though I know the words and music well.
The problem is I get choked up every time I sing it. I try to put the proper emotion into the song but then I start thinking about the mother I miss so much and I get choked up. I just hadn’t been able to do it. My mom trained in voice at the Juilliard School of music in New York. I remember her singing opera arias with her beautiful coloratura voice when I was growing up so I literally “heard my mother sweetly singing as oft I did so long ago”.
So I decided maybe I should try the song again. Get over it. Guess what? Even when practicing alone I couldn’t do it! I guess I just miss my mother that much.
I was dreaming of a little cabin
And I heard somebody call my name.
I knew it was the same sweet mother
That had kissed me many times before
I heard her sing the “Rock of Ages”
And “Silver Threads Among the Gold”.
She told me once again of Jesus
Within that little cabin fold.
She opened up her faded Bible
Where the family records used to be
And I knew it was the same sweet mother
That years ago had cradled me.
An orphan through this world I wander
Since mother left the old homestead.
No one to pray for me at twilight
No place to lay my weary head.
I miss her voice so gently calling
I miss her precious guiding hand.
But I know that when I reach God’s city
I’ll hear her call my name again.
There are other songs I have trouble with but Dreaming of a Little Cabin gets me every time. Some songs like John Prine’s I Remember Everything are just so sublime that I get a little shaky because it hits so closely with past experiences.
And if you think too closely about the story who wouldn’t get choked up singing Mollie O’Day’s classic:
Page by page our lives are written in the Master’s book above
Wonder if He makes an entry for each darling mother’s love
Like the one I saw this morning enter though the station door
She was crying softly crying teardrops falling in the snow
As she came up to the window passing me I a letter through
She was waiting for a casket one draped in red white and blue
Then she said I’ll wait outside sir soon I know the whistle soon will blow
I could see her through the window teardrops falling in the snow
Then the whistle of the engine broke the silence of the air
As the train was slowly stopping upon her lips I saw a prayer
On the box there was a number with a name inscribed below
As she looked upon the casket teardrops falling in the snow
There’s a new made grave a waiting and it’s depths are dark and cold
Just to claim this mother’s darling war for her has taken toll
But I’m sure they’ll meet up yonder where God’s children always
And I always will remember teardrops falling in the snow
That’s a song I can mostly do but it’s hard to not feel the emotion sometimes when you’re trying to sing from your heart and soul. Maybe the trick is to find a song you can just barely handle without losing it. Maybe some day I’ll be able to sing Dreaming of a Little Cabin. I hope so. But in the meantime there are a lot of really good emotional songs out there.